Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Smokin'


It's hard to believe that this

and this:


come about from processes like these:



But they do....

...and there are much finer (stunning!) examples here:  http://www.davidroberts-ceramics.com/

What's happening in the pictures above is known as a raku firing. I took part in various raku firings as part of my early ceramics night classes with Jane Hufton at Newcastle College.  They were always great occasions, we used to spend the whole day firing, but we'd chat and eat lots of nice home-made food in between the various firing stages. 

Raku is a Japanese word meaning enjoyment.  The technique of raku firing is very interesting: it was developed centuries ago in Japan and used in the tea ceremonies there to make instant chawan or 'tea bowls'.  There's a good account of the history and technique here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raku_ware but to summarise:  raku is a firing technique which takes pots made of strong ceramic materials (crank or porcelain usually) and plunges them into a hot kiln, fires them rapidly to a hot but relatively low temperature (compared with other kinds of kiln firings) and then transfers them into a 'smokey chamber' where the smoke blackens any part of the pot where there is no glaze. After a short period in the smoke, the pots are then placed, sizzling, into cold water...  and then scrubbed cleaned and it is only then that the true wonders of the technique are revealed. 

This video of Simon Leach carrying out raku firings is one of many that can be found on the web.  It shows raku for what it is:  a somewhat crazy, at times dangerous, method of producing very nice works of art!


Raku uses glazes with a tendency to 'crackle' for, within the cracks, the smoke can then work its magic.  It's an unpredictable technique because it puts pots under incredible strain - going from white hot to cold in minutes - the sound of cracking pottery is not uncommon!  But the results, when all goes well, are sometimes breathtaking and it's a lot of fun getting together with a group of potters for a raku firing and hearing all the exclamations when the pots are revealed after much cleaning and scrubbing away of carbon.  Wow!

There are lots of variations on raku firing techniques using all manner of nasty chemicals and weird materials (the hair from horses tails!) to produce amazing effects. 

I have to admit to having something of a passion for raku.  I only wish I didn't live in such a residential area of town and I would have a raku kiln of my own and really explore this amazing process.




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